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Moshood Abiola stadium as metaphor for national shame

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The multi-billion naira world-class Abuja National Stadium, which used to be a symbol of national pride, has today become a shadow of its former self.

The beautiful edifice, which was in the past rated among the 50 most expensive, and magnificent stadia in the world, is now a dilapidated monument, depicting the perennial problem of lack of maintenance culture, which has caused the decay of many public structures in the country.

Built between 2000 and 2003 by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, at the cost of $360m, in the build-up of the 8th All African Games hosted by Nigeria in 2003, the multipurpose national stadium, a 60, 491-seater capacity has covered main bowl; presidential suites; media facilities; shops; corporate suites, emergency service units; swimming pools; a standby power supply system; a helipad, and a 3, 000-seater capacity indoor sports hall.

It also has a 2, 000-seater capacity gymnasium, a 2, 000-seater capacity swimming pool; 4, 000-vehicle parking lot; an artificial lake, tennis courts; a 3, 000-seater capacity hockey stadium; a 400-vehicle capacity VIP car park, baseball and softball complex and a velodrome, which was blown off by thunderstorm two hours before the closing ceremony of the 8th All Africa Games, among others.

For several years now, the stadium has not hosted any major tournament, but has served as venue for crusades, religious meetings, weddings and other social activities.When The Guardian visited the stadium at the weekend, following its renaming after the late winner of the June 1993 presidential election, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the once prestigious national assets had become a truly national shame.

From the entrance gate, visitors are greeted by overgrown with weed. Few metres away, towards the right wing, lies a very dusty and dirty velodrome, with brown stains on the floor, which is littered with plastic tables.The entire stadium complex now looks so old with worn out paint, while its main bowl hosts an embarrassing football pitch that could be compared to an abandoned farmland that is now serving as a grazing field for cattle. Fittingly, heaps of cattle dung confirms the constant presence of herds of cattle there.

Contract for the rehabilitation of this main bowl pitch was awarded to Julius Berger in January 2013 after a disruption of power supply to the stadium affected the regular wetting of the pitch, which made it to be overgrown by weed.The scope of maintenance work carried out by Julius Berger included removal and replacement of the topsoil; planting the approved specie of grass, well watered and nourished until roots are established.

When The Guardian sought to speak with the director in charge of facility management at the complex, he was said to have gone to Federal Secretariat for a meeting.

The deputy director and the stadium manager both declined to make any comment about the dilapidated national edifice. However, a high-ranking officer at the Federal Ministry of Sports and Youth Development, who spoke anonymously, told The Guardian that the stadium was maintained by Julius Berger until 2012 when the Sports Ministry took over the maintenance.

The official who disclosed that government was exploring the option of concessioning the stadium to a private concern, explained that the construction giant was then paid N1.2b to maintain just the Park ‘A,’ adding that the ministry took over as it could not afford the huge amount proposed by Julius Berger proposed for the maintenance.

He said, ‘’Go and check the 2018 budgetary allocation to the ministry and see the amount allocated by the National Assembly. We cannot do much with such low budget. The ministry is managing its very little allocation. We have to wait for what government is going to come up with now that it has renamed the stadium after Moshood Abiola. We just hope the government is going to make it befitting enough to immortalise the memory of MKO Abiola.

He lamented that another major challenge that the facility is facing is electricity saying, ‘’without electricity, there will be no water to wet the pitch, and there is no overhead tank to reserve water. There is a standby generator meant to power the stadium when there is no power from the national grid, but due to low budgetary allocation, there is no money to buy diesel for the generator.”

On how the ministry is coping with payment of the complex’s electricity bill, he said, ‘’there is an integrated payment, government selected some ministries and institutions and pays their electricity bills.’’ About N16.2b was allocated to the ministry in 2018.

A commercial photographer at the stadium complex, Gbenga Anthony told The Guardian, ‘’It is so shameful that a national stadium could be allowed to deteriorate like this. It’s so bushy and looks like a forest where people hunt for animals. Even local government stadia are not in this kind of condition. It is a very shameful thing that a big country like Nigeria will allow its national stadium, located in its Federal Capital Territory to deteriorate to this level.

On renaming the stadium after Moshood Abiola, Anthony said, ‘’Government did that just to make the family happy, if not, there is nothing special, or impressive about the stadium. It is too poorly maintained to be named after Moshood Abiola. If government cannot concession the stadium, it can hand it over to competent contractors that can take care of it. As Abuja residents, we are not happy that friendly and international matches are no longer played here.”

Joyce, a civil servant who was doing aerobics within the main bowl of the stadium, stressed that the condition of the stadium was not befitting of a nation that claims to be the giant of Africa.She said: ‘’I really don’t know what the challenges are. I come here every evening to run in order to function well. I am not happy that this stadium is like this and we claim to be the giant of Africa. Maybe by the time more sporting events are held here, government will see the need to refurbish it, but the sad thing is that sporting events are hardly held here. But that is by the way, I have other things to bother myself with than this. As far as I can get bare floor like this to do my running, I am ok.”

Even security men working at the stadium were indifferent to the renaming of the facility, as they were more concerned with the meagre salary paid them, which is irregular. ‘’What is our concern with the change of name of the stadium? Our own is for them to pay us our salaries. We are always owed between three to four months’ salary arrears and they will just pay only two months and allow it to accumulate again. As family men with children and dependents, we are forced to survive on credit purchases before salaries come, and we borrow money to do what we need to do once we run out of it. We owe people here and there. The last time they paid us was in January. We are from the Nigerian Legion, and were deployed here, and it is the ministry that pays us by hand. We also appeal to be considered in this new N30, 000 minimum wage arrangement because what we are paid presently is N25, 000.’’


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